Panerai began making watches in Florence, Italy back in 1860, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the firm produced its first wristwatch. By then its roots in Florence were as deep as those in Switzerland, where Panerai watches were produced.
The breakthrough for the company was an order for diving watches from the Italian Navy, for whom Panerai had been creating instruments of various types since the turn of the century. With a war coming on, the navy was keen to outfit its elite corps of frogmen with wristwatches.
Featuring a Rolex movement, the limited-edition Panerai Radiomir (only 300 were made) was designed for use by commandos and torpedo riders—frogmen who rode a slow-moving torpedo toward a target before attaching a timed mine to the underside of a ship and then riding away. The watches had a cushion-shaped case, a screw-down crown to keep water out of the movement, and oiled-leather straps that were long enough to be worn on the outside of a diving suit. Given their limited supply and the tough conditions they were subjected to, these watches are very highly prized by collectors today.
The watch took its name, Radiomir, from the luminous material that Panerai first developed in 1910. Made of zinc sulphide and radium bromide, Radiomir allowed the numbers and hands on a watch to be read in dark conditions. It was replaced in 1949 by Luminor, which glows thanks to the presence of tritium, a less-dangerous compound than radium bromide.
Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Panerai continued to produce wristwatches for the Italian Navy in regular and destro (left-handed) versions. Some watches from this period were known as Trittico watches, thanks to their trio of features, which included a depth gauge.
Panerai also made Kampfschwimmer watches, some with so-called California dials (numbers on the bottom, Roman numerals on the top), for Germany’s only postwar commando unit. And in 1956, Panerai created a large-face Radiomir watch for the Egyptian Navy.
Panerai might have remained a military diving watch in the minds of the public had it not been for Sylvester Stallone, who, in 1995, purchased a Luminor while on location in Italy. Sales of the watches jumped after its debut in Stallone’s “Daylight,” and Sly even had some watches—dubbed Slytech—made with his signature engraved on the back. These he gave as gifts to friends, including fellow action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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Recent News: Panerai Watches
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Well-trodden path for PaneraiTHE BUSINESS TIMES (subscription), August 21st
CHRONOGRAPHS are the main attractions of Officine Panerai's 2014 novelties, which include pendulum clocks and pocket watches. The two new models launched this year extend an already wide range of Panerai chronographs, one with a history that ...Read more
Harrods to host vintage Panerai exhibitionWatchPro.com, August 21st
The watches that will be on show at the Panerai boutique in the department store's Fine Watch Room have been provided entirely by private collectors. The exhibition will launch on Friday 29 August and run until Wednesday 24 September. The exhibition...Read more
Panerai Luminor 8 Days PAM590Perpetuelle.com (blog), August 20th
Exclusive to the North American market, the Luminor 8 Days, otherwise known as the PAM590, is powered by one of Panerai's newest calibres, the P.5000. As the name implies, the watch is capable of running for 192 hours once fully wound, making it a ...Read more
35th Annual Museum of Yachting Classic Yacht Regatta Weekend presented by ...BYM News (press release), August 14th
The Museum of Yachting at IYRS is pleased to announce to the community the 35th Annual Classic Yacht Regatta, August 29th- 31st. Registration is now open for the MoY Classic Yacht Regatta, part of the North American Circuit of the Panerai Classic...Read more
Panerai BritishClassic Week 2014 concludes in spectacular styleBYM News (press release), August 12th
The final day of racing at Panerai British Classic Week could not have been more exciting as the podium positions for all classes were decided. For some, who were in with a chance of victory, it was tense and exciting racing, while others simply...Read more
Hands On With The Panerai Radiomir 1940 Chrono Monopulsante 8 Days GMT ...Haute Living, August 11th
Haute Time recently spotted the Panerai Radiomir 1940 Chrono Monopulsante 8 Days GMT Oro Rosso while visiting Officine Panerai's boutique in Bal Harbour, Florida. We will bring you a full report on the boutique later this month, but first, let's take a...Read more
Exclusive Panerai launch for LaingRetail Jeweller, August 8th
Chairman of Laing Edinburgh, Michael Laing OBE, said: “It is a privilege to be selected as the exclusive stockist of Officine Panerai in Edinburgh. Panerai watches are one of the most highly sought brands in the world and many of our customers have...Read more
Panerai launches official coloured strap rangeWatchPro.com, July 30th
Eight of the straps feature a semi-matte finish while a further three are presented with a gloss finish designed to work for both men and women. The introduction of official coloured straps is a new development from the brand, designed to complement...Read more